Joining with other leaders of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal called upon the Clinton Administration and Congress to move women and women’s issues to the center stage of the social security debate.
“Women cannot be a side issue in the social security debate. Women are the main issue. Our concerns must be at center stage. The majority of social security recipients are women. Social security is the major source of retirement income for the majority of women. Women’s advocacy organizations, experts on women and social security, and feminist think tanks must be well-represented at the table as reforms and the future of the social security system are debated,” stated Smeal.
In addition to women’s advocates being at the table, Smeal urged the consideration of improvements to the social security system which would strengthen the system for women and eliminate inequities. “As absolutely crucial as the social security system is to women’s economic security, the system is based on demographics of marriage and work patterns which have changed. As a result, there is a substantial benefit gap between male and female social security recipients. Retired women workers receive an average of $621 in monthly benefits compared with retired men workers who receive an average of $810 per month.
“Women are penalized for their traditional care-taking roles. For example, leaving the labor force to provide care to children or elderly parents dramatically lowers women’s lifetime average earnings and, in turn, their social security benefit payouts. And women are penalized as wage earners. Social Security taxes lower income workers, who are disproportionately women, at a higher average rate because the tax is levied currently on only the first $68,400 of income. Moreover, wage discrimination against women in the labor market not only keeps most women as lower income earners, but also results in lower social security benefits,” said Smeal.
Smeal continued, “In adopting reforms, every reform must be assessed for its impact on women. For example, increasing the number of work years used as a base for the calculation of benefits from 35 to 38 disadvantages women who take time out of the workforce to take care of family members. We must use this opportunity of reforming social security to strengthen it for women.” Among the possible reforms which Smeal said merited consideration to improve the treatment of women were:
-Establishing earning sharing allocating 50% of both spouses’ earnings to each spouse so that each individual pays into the social security system and collects benefits in her or his own right.
-Crediting, rather than penalizing, individuals providing child care or elderly care for their families.
-Changing distribution of spousal and primary earner benefit to 75% of total benefit for spouse and 75% of total benefit for primary earner. Currently, the primary earner receives 100% and the spouse 50%.
-Raising the cap on social security taxes in order to remove the additional tax burden on secondary wage earners.